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The Karoo’s secret rugby museum

The Karoo’s secret rugby museum

We’re off to see a rugby fanatic who lives at the end of a long dirt road in the Karoo, somewhere between the Upside-Down Cow Sign and the teasing promise of a distant rain cloud. The drive takes us through timeless landscapes of silent veld and typical flat-topped hills interspersed with rows of garingboom (Agave sisalana), fence lines and sheep. Lots of sheep.

Stacks of jerseys and books

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Barry Naudé, who farms by day and thinks elliptical-ball thoughts non-stop, has opened The Waterhole Rugby Museum and Private Pub at his home on Driekoppen, roughly equidistant from Noupoort, Hanover, and Middelburg in the Northern Cape.

His clan have been here for generations. Someone like me walking into this rugby collection in the middle of the Karoo is like a gaggle of geishas mincing off to watch a rugby match. I cannot resist a passionate packrat of a collector. This is how history is curated and safeguarded by ordinary people.

“Besides,” says my husband Chris, “this is as close as we’re ever going to get to Naas Botha’s boots.” Hmm.

We knock on the door of the neat farmhouse, hear a barrage of barks and, in quick succession, meet Barry’s son Guy, wife Thea, daughter Jade, her husband Tjaart and then Barry himself, all beaming despite this rude Sunday morning invasion. Followed by eight nosy hounds and an orphaned kudu calf, we are led down into the largest man cave I have seen.

The soundtrack is Thunderstruck by AC/DC, played at joyous top volume. And then, confusingly, Ou Ryperd. On every wall there are cabinets, and in every cabinet there are rugby jerseys in a blaze of colour, rugby caps, signed rugby balls, flags, badges, brochures, mugs, jackets, commemorative clocks and wines, posters, photographs, trophies and books, lots of books. Along a wall stretches a long and inviting bar. On tables, there are more jerseys and books waiting to be filed.

Naas Botha’s boots

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Naas Botha’s rugby boots, one of the precious items contained in Barry’s museum.

This is where you’ll find a pair of Naas Botha’s famous kicking boots, a blazer of Solomon Mhlaba, the tiny boots worn by the mascot who led the Springboks onto the field in 1949, and De Wet Barry’s jersey, last worn when he played in the 2003 World Cup.

“It was actually Thea’s idea to put it all together in one place. My collection was starting to take over the house,” says Barry shyly.

The large room, which smells of leather and mothballs with a top note of testosterone, is formally named The Waterhole Rugby Museum and Private Pub. Why Waterhole? Because this expansive museum was once a farm dam.

From the age of ten, thanks in part to his rugby-fanatic mother, Barry has been entranced by the game, the characters and the memorabilia. He also played wing for Union High School in Graaff-Reinet until he broke his fifth vertebra. His collection started with a scrapbook, then books, then rugby jerseys and eventually everything else. “There are plenty of rugby collectors. It’s quite competitive. But I’ve got the biggest collection in the Karoo. A lot of it actually comes from donations, guys just giving me an autograph or a jersey. Everything here has a story.”

A collector of rugby facts

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This is where it all began; Barry with rugby-club jerseys.

Barry’s particular area of interest covers those incubators of talent, the district unions and town clubs. Decades ago, nearly every institution and the tiniest dorps had rugby clubs and regular championships. De Aar used to have five rugby clubs, as did Graaff-Reinet. Tiny Richmond had a club, as did Hanover.

And if he has to narrow it down further, Barry’s greatest love is for rugby jerseys dating up to 1992, before clubs became really slick and commercialised. His particular passion is for the old North-Eastern Cape (Noord-Oos Kaap or NOK) Rugby Union, with its distinctive kanniedood aloe logo.

It included the towns of Burgersdorp, Aliwal North, Colesberg, De Aar, Britstown, Victoria West, Richmond, Graaff-Reinet, Murraysburg, Somerset East, Jansenville, Steytlerville, Adelaide, Bedford, Hofmeyr, Grahamstown, Middelburg, and of course, the Club’s traditional headquarters, Cradock. And, in the museum, there’s a whole separate alcove for Barry’s beloved NOK collection.

Players linked with the North-Eastern Cape District, who have also played for the Springboks, include AS ‘Saturday’ Knight (1912), ‘Baby’ Michau (1921), Felix du Plessis (1949) and Hannes Marais (1968 and 1969).

Not surprisingly, Barry also collects rugby facts. He can tell you – perhaps over an ice-cold beer in his pub – how to spot a fake World Cup rugby jersey, all about legendary Leopards players Solomon and Heinz Mhlaba, local brothers Maeder and Antony Osler and their famous Springbok uncle Bennie, exactly when the eight-panelled leather ball gave way to the four-panelled one, and much more besides. He remembers bits of rugby trivia, obscure facts and statistics with a passion and precision more often seen in Wisden-quoting cricket buffs.

Meeting the legends

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The Naudé family gathers around the long bar in the museum. From left: Barry Naudé, son-in-law Tjaart, daughter Jade, his wife Thea and son Guy.

Barry has written a book with Hannes Kotze, A Selected Guide to Famous South African Rugby Kit 1891-1992, and is busy on two more. One is on the history of the North-Eastern Cape District, and the other (also with Hannes Kotze) on the 914 (and counting) rugby players, who have worn the Springbok jersey across the decades.

The Waterhole Rugby Museum and Private Pub has, naturally, been visited by some famous players, including De Wet Barry (“What a gentleman,” remarks Barry), Chester Williams, Corné Krige and Pieter ‘Slap Tjips’ Rossouw.

“They’re all really nice blokes,” adds Barry. “Quieter than you’d think.” But he has found that rugby players’ interests are quite different from the altogether more feverish rugby fans when it comes to trivia and memorabilia.

“Oh ja, the players will look around and admire stuff, but then they’ll wander back to the bar, have a beer and chat about the latest match. It’s the true fans who spend hours looking at the badges, caps and jerseys.”

Barry Naudé has a regularly updated Facebook page for The Waterhole Rugby Museum. To organise a special tour of his collection, contact him or Thea on 072 112 3114 [email protected]

Photos: Chris Marais

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